Protests NEWS IN BRIEF
Protest is largest
anti-Syrian rally in the
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) - Tens of
thousands marched yesterday in the
biggest anti-Syrian protest in Lebanese
history amid signals that Syria will
soon withdraw its troops from parts of
the country. President Bush renewed
demands for Syrian forces to leave Leb-
The protest marked one week since
the Feb. 14 death of Rafik Hariri and
began at the bomb-scarred site of the
former prime minister's assassination,
which turned many Lebanese against
Syria and increased international pres-
sure on Damascus to extract its army
Holding aloft red roses and Leba-
nese flags, the throngs on the streets
shouted insults at Syria and demand-
ed the resignation of the pro-Syrian
government in a march that began at
the seaside site where Hariri and 16
others were killed and ended at his
grave in the city center.
The protesters wore scarves of red
and white - the colors of Lebanon's
flag - which have become the symbol
of the opposition's "'independence upris-
ing," described as a peaceful campaign
to dislodge the government and force
the Syrian army out of Lebanon.
Hariri's assassination has brought
Lebanese together and strengthened
the opposition, but it was unclear if the
momentum would force a change in
government or push the Syrian army out
of the country.
Another former prime minister Gen.
Michel Aoun, said Monday he would
return from exile before this year's par-
liamentary elections and that he may
launch his own candidacy if the opposi-
tion needs his support. The former com-
mander of the Lebanese army fled the
country in 1990.
"I will return before the legislative
elections, probably by mid-April," Aoun
told The Associated Press in a telephone
interview from Paris. "And if the situ-
ation is critical for the opposition in a
region, then I will throw in my personal
weight and run in the elections."
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Ahmad
Chalabi, a secular Shiite once known
for his ties to Washington, and Ibra-
him al-Jaafari, the conservative
interim vice president, will face off
in a secret ballot today to determine
who will be the Shiite majority's
choice for Iraqi prime minister, offi-
The decision to hold a secret ballot
came after the clergy-backed United Iraqi
Alliance, which has most of the seats in
the 275-member National Assembly,
was unable to decide on a nominee -
despite days of negotiations.
Chalabi spokesman Haidar al-
Moussawi said the most powerful
man in predominantly Shiite Iraq,
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, met
with interim Finance Minister Adil
Abdul-Mahdi in the southern city of
Najaf and gave his backing for what-
ever decision the alliance makes.
"Al-Sistani assured that whoever
the alliance will choose, he will
agree on him," al-Moussawi said.
Although Chalabi and his support-
ers claim he had the support needed
for the nomination, the vote between
the two 58-year-old men was any-
thing but a sure thing.
The Supreme Council for Islamic
Revolution in Iraq, the main group
making up the alliance, had tried to
persuade Chalabi to quit the race,
some of its senior officials said.
"We had hoped that we would agree
on one person without the secret ballot,
because we fear that such a vote will
cause divisions inside the alliance," said
Jawad Mohammed Taqi, a senior mem-
ber of the group, known as SCIRI.
He added that "Chalabi seems very
Israel frees 500 Palestinian prisoners
Palestinians gave a jubilant welcome to 500 prisoners freed yesterday by
Israel as part of a truce, but many complained that uprising leaders were not
among those released. Hamas militants appeared unmasked in a West Bank
city, their leader shouting that there can be no peace "as long as there is a single
prisoner in Israeli jails."
Suhail Abu Madala, 35, spent four years in prison and had three more years
to serve when he was set free Monday.
"I cannot believe that I'm smelling the air of freedom, that I will see my fam-
ily," he said, choking back tears after being reunited with brothers and sisters
and his 12-year-old son, Mohammed, in the West Bank city of Nablus. "Noth-
ing can describe my joy and my feelings."
The decision to release the prisoners led to criticism by some Israelis that
the move could re-ignite the bloodshed that has beset the region for more
than four years.
"It's true that many of them don't have blood on their hands, but it's not
because they didn't try - it's because they didn't succeed," Menachem Landau,
a former commander in Israel's Shin Bet security service, told Army Radio.
Bush seeks to rebuild transatlantic unity
President Bush appealed to Europe on yesterday to move beyond animos-
ities over Iraq and join forces in encouraging democratic reforms across the
He also prodded Russia to reverse a crackdown on political dissent,
demanded that Iran end its nuclear ambitions and told Syria to get out of
French President Jacques Chirac and Bush said they were committed to
patching up differences and restoring good relations despite their disagree-
ment over the war in Iraq.
"I'm looking for a good cowboy," Bush joked when a French reporter
asked him whether relations had improved to the point where the U.S. pres-
ident would be inviting Chirac to the U.S. president's ranch in Texas.
Chirac said that U.S.-French relations have been "excellent for over 200
years now." Chirac added, "That doesn't necessarily mean we agree on
everything at every time." The two leaders made the comments before they
sat down to dinner.
Storms in California blamed for three deaths
Mudslides trapped people in their homes yesterday and forced others to flee as
Southern California was soaked by yet another of the powerful storms that have
pounded the region this winter.
At least three deaths were blamed on the weather and part of the area's com-
muter rail service was halted.
Rescuers pulled three people from about 10 feet of mud that flowed into a town
house in Hacienda Heights, a suburb east of Los Angeles. One woman was flown to
a hospital while the other two escaped with only minor injuries, said Los Angeles
County Fire Capt. Mark Savage.
That same mudslide had forced the evacuation of 30 people from five units at the
complex, Savage said.
U.N. refugee chief resigns amid allegations
After months of criticism, Secretary-General Kofi Annan decided that U.N. refu-
gee chief Ruud Lubbers had to go because of the growing controversy over allega-
tions that the former Dutch prime minister had sexually harassed female staffers.
Lubbers didn't go easily. He resigned Sunday but proclaimed his innocence,
saying he felt insulted and accusing Annan of giving in to "media pressure."
At a meeting with Annan on Friday, U.N. diplomats said the secretary-general
offered the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees two choices - resign or face
suspension and charges of breaking U.N. rules.
- Compiled from Daily wire reports
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